US reinserts troops in Somalia after long-awaited elections end
On May 15, Somalia completed its electoral process, selection Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president. Sheikh previously served as Somalia’s president from 2012 to 2017 and defeated incumbent President Farmajo in a long-awaited and controversial election.
Elections in Somalia were originally scheduled for February 8, 2021. However, the date passed without an election, triggering mass protests in Mogadishu.
President Farmajo, also known as Mohamed Abdullahi, has been deemed illegitimate by his opponents due to delayed elections that left him without a mandate, sparking ongoing factional strife. These conflicts have sometimes turned violent, and security forces associated with Farmajo or the opposition have frequently engaged in an attempt to protect their party’s interests.
Over the past year, Somali elections have been repeatedly scheduled and postponed, with politicians on all sides accusing each other of corruption and manipulation of the electoral process. Election delays were exacerbated by the Shabaab terrorist attacks, as the al-Qaeda branch sought to disrupt the process in order to demonstrate its influence. The most notable of these attacks was the March 24 suicide bombing, in which Shabaab killed dozens of people at a polling center in Beledwayne. In its statements, the jihadist organization denounced the democratic process, proudly taking credit for killing “apostate officials”.
The election of Hassan Sheikh marks the end of Farmajo’s reign in Mogadishu. Farmajo leaves office with a mixed record, preside about huge internal conflicts and the rapid expansion of Shabaab. His tenure has seen an intensification of infighting between the highest levels of the Somali government, with drama culminating after his December 2021 attempt. suspension of Prime Minister Roble. The use of armed forces to secure political interests and attempt to sway the electorate has undermined Somalia’s counterinsurgency effort against Shabaab, allowing jihadists to thrive.
The new president will not inherit an enviable position, as Shabaab continues to operate throughout the country. Despite special forces raids by elite US-trained Danab units, the SNA proved unable to hold most of southern Somalia. In early May, Shabaab launched one of its biggest attacks in years against an AU base in Middle Shabelle occupied by Burundian troops, killing between 30 and 170 soldiers. This raid, preceded by a large vehicle bomb attack (VBIED or improvised explosive vehicle), illustrated the enduring ability of the insurgents to challenge the Somali government and its AU supporters for control of the state.
Hassan Sheikh, the first Somali president to serve a second term, must also manage the transition of the African Union mission which will see the coalition of 22,000 troops withdraw by 2024 to contain the threat; however, with the move to ATMIS, AU troops will be removed from combat roles to a purely training mission.
During his first term, Hassan Cheikh forge closer relations with Western and regional partners, which Somalia hopes will help compensate for the loss of AU forces. These ties are evident in the resumption of US deployment in Somalia announced by the Biden administration just a day after the election of Hassan Sheikh.
In 2020, the Trump administration withdrew special forces from Somalia, where the 700 US troops in the country trained the SNA, accompanied Somali troops on certain operations and gathered intelligence for drone strikes. This decision was made versus the recommendation of military advisers, who claimed that the withdrawal of US forces would compromise Somalia’s ability to counter the Shabaab threat, while putting US troops at risk. From the withdrawal until Biden’s reversal, US troops continued to periodically train Somali forces, operating from outside the country in what AFRICOM officials described as dangerous.”go to work.”
On May 16, following the conclusion of the Somali elections, the Biden administration authorized US forces to redeploy to Somalia to resume its in-person training mission. The deployment will consist of around 450 special forces, down from the 700 initially deployed before 2020. The decision, taken in early May but not announced before Somalia elected its new president, aims to enable “a more effective fight against Al Shabaab”.
On May 21, General Stephen Townsend, head of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), meet with the newly elected Somali President to discuss how partners can work together to mitigate the threat posed by Shabaab. Hassan Sheikh voiced his support for the return of US troops to Somalia, inviting drone strikes against Shabaab leaders and forces.
While the redeployment of administration troops is a welcome acknowledgment of the threat posed by Shabaab and the US stake in Somalia’s stability, the estimated 450 troops for training and advising are likely insufficient to have an impact. criticism in the long Somali war.
In Afghanistan, the United States has deployed thousands of troops for this purpose for 20 years but has been unable to sufficiently arm Afghan security forces to repel the Taliban. Moreover, during the US deployment in Somalia from 2017 to 2020, Shabaab extended its territorial control, indicating that the 700 US troops were insufficient to degrade and defeat the jihadist insurgents. With considerably fewer troops, the US deployment is unlikely to reverse the current trend of Shabaab expansion.
The White House also authorized the targeting of a dozen Shabaab leaders in his May 16 announcement. Since Biden took office, the United States has carried out five confirmed strikes against Shabaab in Somalia, mostly to defend local partner forces. In its latest drone strike in February 2022, the US struck Shabaab forces in conjunction with SNA assaults on Shabaab bases in Middle Shabelle, killing at least three militants.
Under the May 16 authorization, the United States will resume counterterrorism operations in Somalia to relieve pressure on the beleaguered SNA. The Voice of America Haroun Marouf reports that Biden is aiming to eliminate Shabaab leaders through these strikes, as opposed to the low-level foot soldiers targeted by the previous administration’s strikes. In addition to killing Shabaab leaders, US drones are essential for aerial surveillance and intelligence gathering in Somalia, which can improve the SNA’s ability to effectively respond to the growing Shabaab threat.
Ultimately, the impact of US redeployment will depend on the administration’s commitment to the war in Somalia. If he sees Shabaab as a critical threat and commits adequate resources and effort to bolster the Somali government and downgrade the jihadist threat, adding US trainers and resuming counterterrorism operations is more likely to help reverse the situation. steam in favor of the SNA.
However, if the United States is content with simply having a presence in the country and killing the occasional insurgent commander without devising a viable strategy to eradicate Shabaab and stabilize Somalia, this mission will simply become another half-hearted attempt to gain self-reliance. -called “war”. on terror.’
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